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FIFA 09 - first look

Also, if you press the button hard enough when going for a 50-50 ball, your man will slide in and sweep the ball to a colleague. Players are more responsive too, with people positioning themselves more precisely for headers on the goal and following up for rebounds more quickly. But the keepers are insanely good, pulling off unlikely saves as a matter of course. We can only hope they’re made less superhuman before the game’s final release. This time around a keeper will also able to dive at feet, “anticipating where people are going to be. But if he gets it wrong, he’ll be able to change his mind. We’re really humanizing the system.”

EA’s proudest invention is FIFA 09’s customizable tactics system. “We wanted people to play how they want to play,” reckons Rutter. “You can simulate the way the team you support currently play, the way you think they should play, or come up with some fantasy way of playing.”

Although this wasn’t available for us to test, it will work with a series of sliders “incorporating key parts of the team dynamic - aggression, mentality, positioning, etc”. We’re told it will be possible to create attacking or defensive tactics and everything in between, and that you’ll be able to assign up to four of your own custom plans to the D-pad and switch to them mid-match.

“A long passing game isn’t just about hitting the ball long,” says Rutter. “We’ve changed the support play so your midfield needs to be further up the pitch, looking for the long ball to be knocked down for them to run on to. In a short game, the team pushes together and is more compact to allow short passes to be played. You can totally change the way your team plays, and apply it during the match. Every game is going to be different. But the AI will do it too, so if you play [Manchester United] and they go a goal down, they’re gonna change to try to get a goal back.”

Above: This image is from the PS3 version

It sounds vaguely reminiscent of Pro Evo 2008’s TeamVision AI - which was meant to learn your playing style and adapt the AI tactics accordingly. Except, of course, TeamVision - in our experience, at least - didn’t really work as we expected.

Lastly, and again we haven’t been able to test this out yet, is the updated Be A Pro mode. For the uninitiated, Be A Pro allowed you to select a player and spend the entire match exclusively in control of that one man, with the camera at pitch level to make you feel more involved. It proved something of a hit, and now it’s back with its own Career mode. You can take control of a player - or make your own in the editor - and spend four seasons trying to take him up the ranks from unknown to national legend. We’re looking forward to trying it out, putting ourselves in the game and lifting the World Cup, but we’re a little surprised at the four-season limit. Regardless, it should be fun, although playing as only one man is never going to distract us from proper matches for too long.

A word on the PS2 version: The last couple of FIFAs on PS2 have been commended for being a vast improvement - in that they’ve been just like PES. This year’s is no different - it’s fast (insanely so, at times), with smooth passing and excellent shooting. New additions? You can shield the ball from nearby opposition players, and it has the same ‘strength collision’ detection of its next-gen brother - but the big thing is Easy Play. This is a mode EA claim is for young kids to play, and basically involves the computer doing all the passing and running, while you simply press shoot or tackle at appropriate times.

Based on our brief hands-on, FIFA 09 is fun, with more precise passing than before - through balls are more accurate and easier to place - and shooting is stronger and more accurate. Tackling, meanwhile, feels suitably impactful. One odd thing, mind, is that while Euro 2008 was marginally, but appreciably, quicker than FIFA 08, now the tempo has reverted to type. And, of course, one thing FIFA’s detractors often point to when voicing their displeasure is... the slow pace.

Jun 5, 2008